NFL, baseball step back, reflect

Tagliabue decides to call off games for this weekend

`Came down to loss of life'

Terrorism Strikes America

September 14, 2001|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Acknowledging the "horrific loss of life" in terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue decided yesterday not to play this weekend's 15-game schedule, but he kept open the possibility of making up those games at the end of the regular season.

In a national conference call, Tagliabue said he consulted with a wide range of interests, from the Bush administration to municipal entities, and considered safety factors involving airplanes and stadiums.

"We considered those things," he said. "But it really came down to the loss of life, and the need for the players to absorb what we've all been through and for them to play football in the right way."

In the end, perhaps the loudest voice Tagliabue heard was that of his players. Through Gene Upshaw, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, those players let Tagliabue know this was not a week for games.

"To put things into perspective, the canceling of a game or two is the least of our concerns," said Bruce Smith, defensive end for the Washington Redskins. "Right now we're more concerned with the state of America, for the innocent people who lost their lives and were injured, and the devastating effects this could have on America."

Upshaw conducted a conference call with each team's player representative Wednesday night and found widespread, if not unanimous, support.

"I thought the players ... were very diplomatic about what they had to say," Upshaw said. "At the end of the day, we knew it was clear the players supported not playing the game."

The league will resume play Sept. 23 with the Week 3 schedule.

Undecided, however, is the ultimate fate of Week 2 games. Because there is only one week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl, there is not room on the calendar to make up the games. While Tagliabue said it was theoretically possible to move back the Jan. 27 Super Bowl in New Orleans by one week, he dismissed it as unrealistic.

That leaves the league with essentially two options: to play a 15-game schedule as it now exists, or substitute this week's vacated games for the Jan. 5-6 wild-card playoff games.

That would shorten the postseason and reduce the number of playoff teams from 12 to eight. Only two wild-card teams would enter the playoffs, instead of the usual six.

"A lot of teams don't like it because they think their only shot at getting in the playoffs is the wild card," said Ravens owner Art Modell.

Eliminating four wild-card berths is no small item. The AFC's past two Super Bowl participants - the Ravens and the Tennessee Titans - both traveled the wild-card route.

Lines are already forming on the wild-card front. The Kansas City Chiefs play in the AFC West, perhaps the toughest division in the NFL this season. Their most realistic shot at the playoffs is through the wild-card round.

"I don't know that it wouldn't be better just to play 15 games," said Chiefs president Carl Peterson. "In spite of the negatives, it might be better to have 12 teams [in the playoffs] after 15 regular-season games."

The television networks will have a voice in the decision to scrap the wild-card round. Tagliabue said a decision on the 15-game season vs. the 16-game season could be made as early as today, or possibly not until early next week.

The decision not to play this week was considerably easier, even though it took the NFL two days of deliberations.

"It's a no-brainer," said Redskins cornerback Darrell Green. "Everybody feels the same. This is our country. You talk about something that brings us into being one unified group of human beings.

"I would imagine most of the conversations on the sidelines or in meetings were about that. I mean, we saw a plane go into a building. I still can't get that out of my mind."

Peterson felt the same thing in the Chiefs' practice on Wednesday.

"It was very noticeable on the field," he said of the tendency toward distraction. "Even me. I'm trying to think about practice and my mind keeps drifting back ... `Good Lord, something a lot bigger than us has happened here.' "

Tagliabue held several conference calls with different groups of owners since Tuesday's attacks and found unyielding support.

"We all had an opportunity to talk," Modell said. "I did my share of talking. I was in favor of not playing this weekend."

Redskins owner Dan Snyder said he agreed "wholeheartedly" with the decision.

"This, obviously, is a time for all Americans to mourn and pray," Snyder said.

One scenario the league considered was postponing only the games that involved the New York Giants, the Redskins and the New York Jets this week and letting the rest of the teams play.

"If we had done that, there is a way we technically could have adjusted all the byes and put them in sync," Tagliabue. "To do that, we would have had to arbitrarily assign opponents that weren't on a team's schedule."

The league decided against that.

The work stoppage is the NFL's first for non-strike reasons. The fact that the league played two days after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963 was only of marginal influence, Tagliabue said.

The commissioner said the league spoke to the White House staff, and also with New York Gov. George E. Pataki and New York City Mayo Rudolph W. Giuliani, who "basically confirmed our own judgment," Tagliabue said.

"I've got a lot of respect for both the governor and the mayor, and that conversation was very important."

Sun staff writer Milton Kent contributed to this article.

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